Activists make AIDS funding priority at city budget forums

Posted on 25 Jun 2009 at 5:45pm
By John Wright News Editor

Members of Stonewall Young Democrats, Queer Liberaction worked with others in focus groups to raise issue in meetings this week


JOHN WRIGHT/Dallas Voice Travis Gasper, president of Stonewall Young Democrats of Dallas, speaks during a Community Budget Forum at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas on Monday, June 22. Gasper was one of about a dozen LGBT activists who attended the forum to voice their objections to the city’s proposed funding cuts for HIV/AIDS services.

Facing a $190 million shortfall, Dallas city officials have indicated there’s little chance $325,000 in proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention and education services will be restored to this year’s budget before it’s finalized in September.

But LGBT activists who attended a Community Budget Forum on Monday, June 22 in North Dallas said they aren’t going down without a fight.

About a dozen activists, mostly from Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats and Queer Liberaction, were among hundreds who turned out for the forum at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas on Northaven Road near Central Expressway.

Instead of waving signs outside, though, the activists took part in the forum, spreading themselves out among small focus groups that were tasked by City Manager Mary Suhm with identifying budget priorities. Thanks to the activists’ presence, about six of the 12 groups ultimately listed HIV/AIDS services as one of the things they’d like to see restored.

"We disagreed on certain aspects of the budget," Stonewall Young Democrats President Travis Gasper said of those in his group. "But there was one area we all agreed upon: Cuts in HIV/AIDS prevention and education will hurt Dallas. We will work with the City Council to restore services. Thousands of at-risk people in our city depend on it."

Daniel Cates, a member of Queer Liberaction who attended the forum, also helped convince his group to make HIV/AIDS services a top priority.

"Most people at the table were very receptive to that," Cates said. "I was surprised."

Mike Lo Vuolo, a board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said he hoped to see even more people from the LGBT community at a Budget Forum in East Dallas on Thursday, June 25.

"The North Dallas meetings are usually less diverse," Lo Vuolo said of Monday’s turnout, adding that he attends the forums regularly. "I was impressed."

Despite the likelihood that HIV/AIDS services will be cut, at least one city council member who attended Monday’s forum said the LGBT’s community’s efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed.

"I won’t say it’s over until it’s over," Councilman Ron Natinsky said. "I’m not ready to say the die is cast and the decision is made. We’ve got several more months ahead of us. The more the community gets out and lets its voice be heard, that’s what counts."

A day later, newly sworn-in City Councilwoman Delia Jasso vowed to fight to restore funding for HIV/AIDS services.

"I’m going to do everything I can to keep it," Jasso said, speaking following an appearance at a Stonewall Young Democrats meeting. "You can count on me as a supporter. I promised when I started this campaign to be front and center, and I plan to be."

Much of the HIV/AIDS funding that’s targeted for cuts was put in place by the City Council decades ago. The $325,000 represents the entire amount currently spent by the city on HIV/AIDS from its general fund.

The city also administers $3.2 million in federal grants for housing people with HIV/AIDS that wouldn’t be affected by the cuts.

The $325,000 targeted for cuts currently funds prevention and education programs that primarily serve low-income people and minorities. The programs are run by agencies including Resource Center Dallas and AIDS Interfaith Network.

AIN stands to lose more than $100,000 for two programs serving low-income people and African-Americans, while RCD stands to lose $75,000 for a program targeting Latinos.

"We’re incredibly touched by this," Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell said of the activists’ support this week. "This is a needed program in our community. That they would take the time to let their voices be heard is very heartening."

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2009.

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